Small Business editor of the NZ Herald

Your Business: Working from home - Chris Hunter, Bike EXIF

Chris Hunter is the founder of motorcycle-related website Bike EXIF.
Chris Hunter, founder of Bike EXIF.
Chris Hunter, founder of Bike EXIF.

Can you tell me about your business?

I run a website called Bike EXIF. It's one of the world's most popular motorcycle-related websites, and covers the art of customising bikes. We get around 2 million page views a month, have nearly 400,000 Facebook fans, and over 2 million followers on Pinterest - that's ten times more than Oprah.

I started the site in late 2008 as an experiment, when I was working in Sydney as an advertising creative director. It took off quickly, and I came back to New Zealand in 2011 to run the site full time. We live on a small farm near Matakana, just over an hour north of Auckland.

Why did you decide to work from your home there?

It wasn't a conscious decision, but as an online publisher there's no need to have a physical office - unless you're running a fully fledged media company with full-time staff.

My server is in the US, and my developer is in Australia. My main writer is in South Africa, my advertising guy is in the Philippines, and my email specialist is in Canada. For heavy lifting, I've used systems administrators in both the UK and Ukraine - the digital world is a global one.

Has working from home provided the benefits you expected?

It's definitely a mixed bag. I wouldn't say it's better than working in a conventional office, and that's surprised me - I was expecting it to be much more enjoyable!

On the upside, I have a more pleasant environment than the typical noisy, urban, open-plan office. The view out of the window is awesome. I can control my hours, my tech equipment and furniture, and I can play Daft Punk with the volume set to 11 if I feel like it.

I don't have to commute, which is a really big deal for me. In London, commuting was easy with the Tube and in Sydney it was a pleasure thanks to the jetcat across the harbour. But in Auckland I'd probably be crawling over the bridge into the CBD, or choked in traffic on the Great North Road.

What do you find difficult about working this way?

When you're working from home, it's harder to avoid interruptions and distractions. If you're a single person living alone, or with just your partner, it's probably manageable. If you have an active family, it gets tricky.

I have three kids aged 12 to 17. Something always crops up, and you can't physically barricade yourself into your study. It's rare that I can put in nine hours straight without interruptions.

I think you have to make it clear to others in the house that just because you're at home it doesn't mean you can be interrupted at random, or called on to solve a logistical problem at a moment's notice. If you're not strict about that, you'll end up getting run ragged!

Is perception an issue for you working from home?

It's never been an issue, and it's not something that I've hidden. Most of my contacts and clients think it's cool to be able to work from a farm in New Zealand. It's a conversation opener - 'How are the cows doing? Have you had any rain yet?'

Most of the bike builders I deal with are effectively 'working from home' anyway, whether it's a backstreet garage in Portland, US, or a workshop attached to a house in northern Spain. It's mostly my advertising clients who still work in offices, and you can tell they'd rather be somewhere else.

Do you see yourself working from home long term?

There's no reason to change at the moment, but life has a habit of springing surprises. This year I'm looking for investment to take the site to the next level; odds are, the investment will probably come from outside New Zealand. The centre of the motorcycling world in the West is California, so who knows?

What's a key piece of advice you'd have for anyone else thinking about working from home?

Examine your personal circumstances closely. Are you the type who thrives on the hubbub of office life? Do you enjoy the distance and 'closure' that comes from leaving your office and driving home? Are you able to fix computer problems yourself, rather than call the office IT guy? Do you have a partner who is supportive and will give you space? Or do you have a busy family that will inevitably put you 'on call' at inconvenient times?

You need to spot those issues, and if they're going to arise, know how to handle them. Like everything else in life, it's a balancing act. I've spoken to lots of other folks in the same situation as me, and most have the same perspective: working from home is not a magic bullet, or an instant route to career happiness. If anything, you have to juggle even more.

- NZME.

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